By Chris Higgins
Accompanied by a textbook, laptop, and graphing calculator, University of Iowa senior and civil engineering student Kelsey Anderson settled in for an evening of study and project work.
“I’ve always been interested in building things and designing and I felt that engineering would be my way of contributing to society, because everyone wants to have some sort of purpose,” she said.
This year, 731 students chose to join the same path Anderson has taken and enrolled for the first time in the UI College of Engineering — more than 41 percent more students than the fall 2013 semester, according to the fall 2014 student profile.
Of the 731 new faces to the UI, 514 were new freshmen on campus, compared to 465 last year, or an increase of over 10 percent.
The remainder largely comprises non-degree- seeking students.
“We had a big increase in our number of students who might just be taking a single course or two courses, including distance education, because they want to learn a little bit more about engineering,” said Alec Scranton, dean of the UI College of Engineering.
In particular, there has been high interest in distance courses geared toward high-school students.
The college has intensified outreach efforts across the state in recent years, joining efforts by university and state officials to push high school students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math-based fields upon graduation.
In fall 2009, there were 1,412 students enrolled in the College of Engineering. This semester, there are 2,323, nearly 65 percent more than five years ago.
In response, officials have hired new faculty and expanded course sizes and sections.
“We’re definitely bursting at the seams because our building, [the Seamans Center for Engineering Arts and Sciences] hasn’t changed size, although the [state] Board of Regents has approved an addition to our building, because I do believe the growth in enrollment is something that’s going to be here to stay,” Scranton said.
The expansion plan, approved by the Board in September, calls for a $37.1 million, 65,000 square foot addition to the Seamans Center to be paid for without state funding. The original 1905 structure received its first addition in 2002.
But Anderson won’t see the new expansion — she is set to graduate from the College in May 2015.
“It’s a lot different for me now than it was freshman year because I feel like freshman and sophomore year it was mostly just doing homework all the time, but now, it’s like, I have to be applying for jobs and working and projects and meeting with my group members,” she said.
Freshmen James Rowden and Chase Cahalan both decided to pursue the same trajectory as Anderson, saying they were attracted by the UI campus as well as costs compared to other institutions.
“Problem solving always got me, taking things apart and putting them back together, it’s just something I enjoy doing,” Rowden said.
Both described a freshman year schedule similar to Anderson’s, packed with more broad mathematics-based courses.
“I didn’t really have to study in high school, and now I kind of have to, so it’s been a little more interesting,” Cahalan said. “More late nights than I thought.”